Making Parasport Possible Across N.S.
ZACHARY DICKSON PARASPORT COORDINATOR
Students at Northumberland Regional High School in Pictou County had an opportunity last spring to try a new sport — wheelchair basketball. Over the course of six weeks, they learned how to use a sport wheelchair, practise a few drills, and play a game during their physed class. For a few students, it was the first time they were able to participate in gym on a level playing field with their peers. Teachers, in partnership with the local municipality, hosted a community wheelchair basketball practice, and the wheelchairs were full of budding new players. Similar stories were told across the province in communities such as Yarmouth, Sydney, and Lunenburg. Last winter, a skier with tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia) skied down the slopes at Ski Martock completely independently for the first time, with assistance from a TetraSki, a breath- controlled sit-ski. In Bridgewater, the para hockey (formerly sledge hockey) team had to rent more ice time, buy extra equipment, and add another team because so many young people had joined after being introduced to the sport in the local multi-sport program. In Little Harbour, the pickleball club started a para pickleball group after its courts underwent extensive accessibility upgrades. Many positive stories have come from parasport programs, for those living with a physical disability, across Nova Scotia in the past year. Some parasports are unique, such as goalball, while others are variations of traditional sports like skiing or curling with adapted equipment or rules to make them more accessible. Parasport programs can have dramatically positive effects on participants who wouldn’t otherwise be able to take part in sport. They can create a sense of belonging, provide autonomy and engagement, and improve physical health. But adaptive equipment is expensive — sport wheelchairs run close to $5,000 each — and nationally there is a lack of standardized coach training opportunities. This is especially evident in smaller communities where parasports have never existed. It’s difficult to start a parasport program in a town or village where no one knows anything about it, in addition to the cost of equipment and lack of coach training. But it doesn’t mean the community shouldn’t have accessible sport opportunities. Parasports have been exploding in popularity in Nova Scotia in the past year, and creating infrastructure in communities across the province is key. Someone who lives in Port Hawkesbury shouldn’t have to drive all the way to Halifax to participate in a sport solely because they live with a disability. And it is not sustainable to send the same one or two coaches or volunteers to communities across the province to provide programs. Through Sport Nova Scotia’s Parasport Loan Program and EDIA (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) Funding, there is now a clear pathway for individuals and organizations to start a parasport program in their own town or village. Community champions are driving this growth across the province by taking the initiative and accessing these resources. If you want to be a part of this change and make sure that sport experiences are available for everyone, regardless of ability, anywhere in Nova Scotia, we look forward to hearing from you.